The Riddle Riddles
In my recent install I wanted to apply my personal exploration of Alchemy into my work. Alchemy is “a vibrant, pictorial language where every detail is meaningful” and although very representative in its visual depictions, the method itself involves the making of primordial soup, which I linked to my search for defamiliarisation and non-representation. I also appreciate the notion of the ‘Magnum Opus’, the greatest attempt of achieving quintessence by turning base metals into gold through the process of exhaltation, which I find to be dearly linked to the artist’s journey into producing a work of art through any type of media or intent.
I decided to apply Alchemy to Heidegger’s ‘Thing’ by dealing with man’s first tool and what could possibly be the earliest known paradigm shift of civilization- a branch from a tree. ‘The Thing’ is a very meaningful essay to me as an artist and as a human being and the phrase ‘in the realm of the essence lies the truth’ when Heidegger speaks of the jug reminds me of the way Romantic Poet John Keats addresses a Grecian Urn in his poem ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ in which he concludes with ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty’. I retained my exploration of defamiliarisation by filming the ‘making of the soup’ in abstract close-ups of the ‘cooking’ process, which in itself was alchemy with ordinary materials such as fizzy drinks, cooking oil, gold leaf, chilli flakes, bicarbonate of soda and the sticks themselves. As in my previous installation, I also explored duration in sound by speeding up and slowing down ordinary sound effects such as the sound of boiling water and of metallic pots being filled up to beyond recognition.
I projected the video in a relatively small format and at a very low height close to a corner. I then closed off a section of the room by moving bookshelves around a sofa in order to have a cosy, almost-nurturing space for the viewer to sit in and be defamiliarised. Besides the video, I placed a horizontal plinth with a gilded stick as an ode to the ‘thing’ which, when brought ‘near’ through defamiliarisation, is again perceived in its purest essence and splendour.
During the feedback session Daniel, Sooki and Pat all seemed to agree that my filming the process interrupted the otherwise magic and flow of alchemy and that they would have much preferred if I conducted the Magnum Opus life as a performance piece or else both as a performance piece linked with video and involving the gilded stick as a cross-media collage. They also acknowledged that the visual document itself was too chronological and rational and that I didn’t exploit enough the magical possibilities of the moving image. The end result was very literal and illustrative, where I still had plenty of room left to build around the film and object. I appreciated this feedback as it pushed me in a direction which is still very open but with better possibilities. On this note I would like to return to possibly using performers and make my work more as a performance piece across all media.
Klossowski de Mela, S. (1973). Alchemy, The Secret Art. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. IV.